Coffee Awakens Development

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Peace Is Profitable Contributor Andreas Perez de Fransius explains how integrated supply and value chains can reap rewards for everyone from coffee growers to coffee drinkers.

For many of us, enjoying a delicious cup of coffee can be a truly sensual experience. At the same time, a lack of caffeine can be a big turn-off, and my partner has long ago given up trying to have fruitful conversations with me prior to my morning cappuccino.

In many parts of the world coffee is a also a vital cash crop for smallholder farmers. Unfortunately many of these farmers have failed to reap the true rewards for their efforts, and often sell their coffee beans for a pittance even though many consumers end up paying exorbitant prices in coffee shops. Even though coffee is grown in Africa and Latin America, many final consumers associate high-quality coffee with Italy or France, even though coffee is not grown anywhere near these countries.

The failure of smallholders coffee growers in the developing world to capture a larger share of the final price often stems from major supply chain difficulties. On the input side many African farmers lack adequate access to land and irrigation. After growing the beans they don’t have access to markets. To address this last challenge, many cooperatives have come together to market their produce together directly to consumers in rich countries. Prominent examples include Juan Valdez of Colombia and Rwanda’s Bourbon Coffee.

Sustainability Harvest is a B corporation from Oregon that has taken a particularly comprehensive approach to these challenges by investing in local supply chains. The firm imports specialty-grade coffees. What sets it apart is a commitment to develop operations at the source and support local cooperatives through the Relationship Coffee model, which emphasizes investments in farmer training and development in coffee communities in Africa and Latin America. Such work can take different forms, such as helping local farmers become certified as expert tasters, and farmer to farmer training to boost productivity.

Sustainable Harvest is also using technology to increase a cooperative’s ability to compete on world markets. This is Africa describes how the Relationship Information Tracking Systems, “collects coffee data, including information on where coffee was washed, dried and stored, to help smallholders increase their cooperative’s competitiveness and transparency.” The technology was piloted at the Kilicafe cooperative in Tanzania. Kilicafe was able to use the information provided by the system to increase the availability of the highest quality coffees and to find areas for quality improvement. This model enables Sustainable Harvest to import top-quality produce while providing a way for the farmers to grow their operations.

The goal is not only to provide local communities with basic means of subsistence, but to act as a catalyst for these communities. By making it easier for village growers to connect, Sustainable Harvest allows farmers to produce better quality coffee and sell it at a higher price. These proceeds can then be used to acquire more farmland and grow more coffee. What makes this model attractive is that it is both sustainable and scalable, while providing benefits to both the importer and growers.

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